Professor Mina Hoorfar - Credit: Contributed

A more efficient way for clean water

Kelowna - A 3D printed model allows UBCO researchers to test water quality

Researchers at UBC’s Okanagan have designed a tiny device —built using a 3D printer—that can monitor drinking water quality and help protect against waterborne illness.

Director of the School of Engineering Mina Hoorfar said new research proves miniaturized water quality sensors are cheap to make, can operate continuously and can be deployed anywhere in the water distribution system.

“Current water safety practice involves only periodic hand testing, which limits sampling frequency and leads to a higher probably of disease outbreak,” she said. “Traditional water quality sensors have been too expensive and unreliable to use across an entire water system.”

Tiny devices created in her Advanced Thermo-Fluidic lab at UBC’s Okanagan are proving reliable and sturdy enough to provide accurate readings regardless of water pressure or temperature, according to a UBCO release.

The sensors are wireless, reporting back to the testing stations, and work independently—meaning that if one stops working, it does not bring down the whole system. And since they’re made using 3D printers, they are fast, inexpensive and easy to produce, said the release.

While many urban purification plants have real-time monitoring sensors, they are upstream of the distribution system. Often, Hoorfar said, the pressure at which water is supplied to the customer is much higher than what most sensors can tolerate.

But her new sensors can be placed right at or within a customer’s home, providing a direct and precise layer of protection against unsafe water.

More than 17 years ago, four people died and hundreds became ill after drinking E.coli-affected water in Walkerton, Ontario.

“Although the majority of water-related diseases occur in lower- or middle-income countries, water quality events in Walkerton, for example, raise serious questions about consistent water safety in even developed countries like Canada,” said Hoorfar. “Many of these tragedies could be prevented with frequent monitoring and early detection of pathogens causing the outbreak.”

The research was recently published in Sensors.